Artist Profile: Heidi Kenyon’s natural medicine

Exploring the Adelaide Botanic Garden’s Garden of Health led Heidi Kenyon to explore the therapeutic and medicinal properties of plants through her work.

Thanks to a Guildhouse and Botanic Gardens of South Australian initiative (The Collections Project), artists can respond to the extensive collections of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium via an artist residency and develop new work to exhibit at the Santos Museum of Economic Botany.

As the 2018 artist-in-residence, Kenyon focusses on the Garden Of Health as a resource, exploring the memories and knowledge of thousands of years of plant medicine. The result is a series of works that explores the therapeutic and medicinal properties of plants.

Kenyon discovered that since it opened in 1857, and until quite recently, the Adelaide Botanic Garden has had other healthcare institutions nearby: the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum (1852–1902), and the Royal Adelaide Hospital (1856–2017). The relationship between the neighbouring institutions and the gardens was of great interest to Kenyon.

The history of the Museum of Economic Botany has also been an area of intrigue for Kenyon. The Museum was established to educate settlers about the uses of introduced and native plants on household management as it was also about minimising waste and being economic.

These new works, From little things (i) and (ii), on display at the Museum of Economic Botany continue Kenyon’s exploration into the nuances in ordinary things. Her sculpture and installation practice seeks to encourage viewers to find meaning and magic in everyday spaces, objects and rituals.

Heidi Kenyon, From little things (i), 2018

In particular these new works reference the river red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis, which appears on the western side of the garden. The tree is extremely old, possibly more than 250 years old. From little things (i) and (ii), continue Kenyon’s interest in the nature of memory and the memories of nature, highlighting the stories of the therapeutic river red gum.

From little things (i) is a sapling river red gum connected to a device that translates electromagnetic energy into sound. Kenyon has created spoken-word samples with her voice referencing site histories and will also use it to generate music notes.

From little things (ii) is a camera obscura inside a museum cabinet that projects a live sapling red gum hidden behind a mirrored box into vintage medicine and apothecary bottles with eucalyptus solution, so it looks as though the leaves are floating inside the bottles. The viewer will see the leaves rustling and also be able to smell eucalyptus.

Heidi Kenyon, From little things (ii), 2018

In addition to the works at the Museum of Economic Botany, Kenyon will be presenting a series of live sound works in the gardens every Saturday afternoon in July from 1pm to 3pm, translating electromagnetic energy into sound.

Kenyon hopes that, through these new works, audiences will have an intimate experience with the trees and plants in the Adelaide Botanic Garden.

“I want to slow people down and get them to think about the connections we have with nature more deeply,” Kenyon says. “To think about the therapeutic and medicinal relationship we have with plants.”

Heidi Kenyon
Santos Museum of Economic Botany
Until Sunday, July 29

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